The United States on Monday began revoking the special treatment extended by law to Hong Kong, heightening the stakes in its showdown with China over Beijing's moves to use a new national security law to tighten its grip over the territory.
Another spike in tensions between the U.S. and China came after Beijing introduced new legislation for Hong Kong envisaging imprisonment and penalties for subversive activity and attempts to undermine state authority.
A government advertisement (left) promoting China's national security law is displayed inside an MTR train station in Hong Kong.
Members of Hong Kong's opposition parties are also unclear if their public support for greater autonomy will disqualify them from seeking office.
China and Hong Kong could still face stiffer penalties for the law, which comes at a time when the Communist Party is determined to bring the semiautonomous city more tightly into Beijing's orbit.
Beijing has defended the law by arguing such a measure is needed to restore stability to Hong Kong, which has been rocked by sometimes violent protests over the past year stemming first from a now-shelved extradition bill and general dissatisfaction with Beijing's heavy-handed governance.
Beijing said on Monday it will impose visa restrictions on U.S. individuals over Hong Kong, mirroring Washington's sanctions against unnamed Chinese officials deemed responsible for curbing freedoms in the city. The new law was met by waves of protests and condemnation from the United States.
"The move severely impacts Hong Kong society's freedom, human rights and stability".
Hong Kong holds silent protest against new Chinese security law
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters' questions during a press conference in Hong Kong, Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
The new law will be applied to Hong Kong as soon as Wednesday.
Rights groups, many western governments and the Unitied Nations' rights body have expressed alarm over the law.
Under the handover agreement, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, Hong Kong's Basic Law was drafted, which is meant to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after 1997 under the "one country, two systems" model.
After months of sometimes-violent protests in Hong Kong against Beijing's encroachment last year, the new security law has heightened doubts about Hong Kong's future as a global financial hub and a regional base for worldwide companies that for years were drawn by the city's relative freedoms.
Yet Lam also admitted that Hong Kong officials had not seen the full proposed text of the national security law in the weeks leading up to its passage.
The Trump administration has taken a series of steps after China announced its intentions to approve the national security law back in May. The city's July 1 holiday has always been marked by a large protest march by opposition groups, under the umbrella of the Civil Human Rights Front.
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